Saturday, September 29, 2007

Enthusiasm--Polly Shulman

The Jane Austen fad is still going strong, with mixed progeny. This Austen inspired tale shines, and shouldn't be overlooked in the crush.

"There is little more likely to exasperate a person of sense than finding herself tied by affection and habit to an Enthusiast. I speak from bitter experience."

So starts narrator Julie Lefkowitz's tale of friendship and romantic adventures. Julie has the quiet reserve and good sense, and her best friend Ashleigh is the Enthusiast. Ashleigh's latest craze is the works of Jane Austen. Julie actually introduced her to them, but Ashleigh is the one who seizes long skirts, formal speech, and a mastery of 18th century ballroom dance as the outlet for her energies. Her mania leads her and Julie to attempt to crash the local prep school's Founder's Day dance (where else will one have the chance to dance a quadrille?) where they make the acquaintance of roommates Parr and Ned. Ashleigh declares her affections for Parr, who is the Mysterious Stranger Julie has seen around town and developed a crush on, and tries to push Julie into the arms of Ned, who while very nice is not interested.

Shulman does a great job of mixing in Austen achetypes with teen romance, and really has the rituals of young love and intellectuals down. This is a book about yearning and the struggle to find yourself and your place in the world. These are good kids--no "Gossip Girl" style antics here. And as someone with Enthusiasms herself, I love bouncey, cheerful, unabashed and ridiculous Ashleigh. It's a delightful tale for someone looking for a teen romance that's not racy, and perhaps like Joan Bauer, Jane Austen, and some of the other YA books I've mentioned here.

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